This town ain’t big enough for the both of them, and sparks will fly when Andrew Weatherall and Ivan Smagghe get set for another soundclash. Armed with “a disco bag over one shoulder and a rockabilly bag over the other”, Weatherall says he’s ready for the Big Dish Go third birthday party in Kennedy’s, playing a six-hour back to back set with Smagghe.
The Wrong Meeting double act of beardy French electro don Smagghe and no-introduction-needed Weatherall is one of the DJ gigs of the year. The odd couple have been hovering around the dance scene for two decades. Weatherall gave Rolling clones Primal Scream the acid house makeover in 1992 on Screamadelica, while laying out his dubbed-out electro stall out with Two Lone Swordsmen and Sabres of Paradise.
With his term as the good half of Black Strobe and his filthy electro mix albums, Ivan Smagghe, is the perfect DJ partner according to Weaherall. He says: “Ivan’s the only person I do the back to back thing with, I’ve been asked loads of times but this is the only one that clicks. As we got to know each other we decided to do a club. I’d had the phrase ‘wrong meeting’ in my mind, from Bill Hicks. It’s an opportunity to play not just house and techno, but a sound clash of post-punk, reggae, dub and rockabilly, before the dancefloor stuff for the last three hours.”
The English producer’s latest album Weatherall Vs The Boardroom filters all these influences through all the right electronic channels. It happened “quite organically” with Steve Boardman, who sublets one of Weatherall’s studios.
“He’d work with various people during the week and He amassed a huge number of tunes. I was lucky enough to hear them being written and made, so I remixed a lot of his stuff in my head even before we worked together,” he says. “Then we met up and worked on each other’s tunes and it grew quite organically from that. It doesn’t really stop down there, there’s always a four-way soundclash going on in the studio.”
Weatherall isn’t one for boxing off music, but he says a little bit of rebellion goes a long way. “I was a bit confused as a kid,” he says. “I didn’t know whether I was a punk rocker or a soul boy. I didn’t understand why if you were a punk you had to hate disco. As we speak I’m just jumping on a train to birmingham to see a little rockabilly band the Black and Reds that my mate manages, a little A&R mission. 50s rock’n’roll was the first music I got into when I was really young, around 10 or 11, that and glam rock.
“Also, when I was 13 or 14 in the late 70s there were a lot of funk bands I was into – High Tension, the Olympic Runners, people like that. And I also liked Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. I remember hearing Kraftwerk on the radio when I was about 11 and realising it was pretty strange and interesting. So while I was listening to rockabilly and glam rock I still had an ear for the dance tunes. Like many dance producer I’d cite Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder as early influences.”
Reggae and dub looms large over Weatherall as well, from the added space and dancehall echo chamber effects on his remixes, to his future dub mixes – notably his Back To Basics Cut the Crap CD from 1996 – on constant repeat for me even before going to see Weatherall every few weeks when he was a resident at Shine in Belfast.
As a young Londoner in the 1970s, Weatherall had to rely on punk’s code of ethics for inspiration, but it helped him down some left-hand paths. He recalls: “To me before I was into the studio trickery, I wanted rebel music and John Lydon said that reggae was rebel music. So I bought a Big Youth album and put the needle down and the first thing I heard was Big Youth saying, ‘Chant the rebel sound’. Of course John Lydon was right – he was writing the rule book.”
Sonically, it’s no surprise that Weatherall joins most of the electronic producers his age, saying Kraftwerk were his biggest influence, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell them.
“I actually did a small tour of Japan, and how’s this for a line-up: Kraftwerk, Squarepusher, Tim Deluxe and myself. I could’ve met them but what do you say? I would have just been a dithering idiot. I’m just a fan when it comes to a lot of bands and I would’ve been a gibbering wreck if I was introduced to them. Even if I got asked to work with them, I couldn’t imagine being in the studio with them. I could give you a list of people I’d like to work with but I’d never see it through. I’d just be giving off the vibe of ‘I’m not worthy’ and it’s not very conducive to the creative process if one half of the partnership is looking doe-eyed at the other from the corner of the studio.”
Even though Weatherall has been banging on about his little “15-20 minute eclectic journeys” with Smagghe on their back-to-back sets, he admits the last three hours will tough, wiry techno and electro – “a trawl through the dark recesses of mine and Ivan’s record collection”.
He adds: “My sets are quite tough but they’re not mid-90s tribal prolonged ‘panel beaters from Prague’ attack squad sets. I put the hours in, and sometimes it could be a nice bright Friday morning and I’m in the basement listening to relentless boompty boompty music, but it doesn’t take long to get into the swing of things. I’m lucky enough that 99.9 per cent of my gigs are inspirational to me. I’m lucky, cos I’ll be doing rock’n’roll gigs and techno gigs. It means hard work, you have to put in twice the effort but there’s less chance of getting bored.
“And there’s nothing like facing an audience in a small club, it makes you pick your game up a little bit. The more rotten fruit and vegetables you have thrown at you the better it gets. It’s good to see the whites – or the reds – of people’s eyes.”
- Edited version in Irish Daily Star, November 2008